Ho, ho, here we go again. A question posed in the House of Commons by Philip Davies (Con) as cited by the Open Europe blog:
Given that the accounts of the EU have not been signed off by the auditors for 15 years running, why do the Government keep giving more and more money to the EU? Surely if the Government are serious about reform of the EU budget, they should say that the EU will not get a penny more from the British Government until it gets its accounts properly audited.
This has become a familiar meme for the Tories on Europe – the EU doesn’t sign off its books, therefore this is a good reason for not cooperating with the EU, not giving it more cash, bla, bla. Cameron even mentioned it in one of his speeches at Tory Party Conference.
So here you are Mr Davies, you who claims at the top of your website to not represent ‘self-interests’, here’s why your question, and the Tory line, is a load of rubbish, and here’s also what the Tories (and indeed anyone else) should do about it.
Firstly, the European Union budget is complicated. Most of the money gets transferred from the European Commission to bodies in the Member States at national or regional level, and these bodies spend the cash. Tracing every last Euro down to every last farmer or training project is a very hard task. And don’t assume this is just something those evil ones across the Channel do – the UK experience is not good on this either.
Secondly, no equivalent budgetary sign off exists in the UK, so it’s not as if the UK is perfect and Brussels is bad. Quoting the Select Committee on European Union Fiftieth Report on the matter:
149. Sir John Bourn, Comptroller and Auditor General at the UK’s National Audit Office told us that, were he required to issue a single Statement of Assurance on the UK Government’s accounts in the same way as the Court of Auditors does for Europe’s accounts, he, like the Court, would be unable to do so (Q 192). This is because last year he issued a qualified opinion on 13 of the 500 accounts of the British Government which he audits.
In short, is the EU budget perfect? No. Is any national government any better? No, probably not, and at least the UK’s is not.
So stop using that as a stick to bash the EU.
So then Mr Davies, Open Europe, hell, even Alistair Darling – you want to do something about this? What you should do is to argue that the European Commission needs at least 1000 additional, new auditors who will spend all of their time digging around in the books of each of the Member States and their regional and local governments, digging up fraud and wrongdoing wherever they find it.
But of course if you’re a Tory you’re never going to go for this either, because then you would have a whinge that EU auditors having a look into the UK’s books would be some infringement on the UK’s national sovereignty, that they would be public sector workers and Tories want a small state etc., and ooh, of course a UK government run by that nice Mr Cameron would never do anything remotely questionable, would it now…?